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Perfectly Imperfect, Embracing Authenticity

Emily DeMalto, MS LPC May 6, 2024


What is perfectionism? Perfectionism refers to a tendency characterized by setting excessively high standards for oneself or others, accompanied by a strong need for flawless performance and an intense fear of making mistakes or falling short of those standards. Perfectionists often strive for impeccability in all areas of their lives, including work, relationships, and personal achievements. They may engage in rigid self-evaluation and be overly critical of themselves or others when expectations are not met. Perfectionism can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction, as well as impairments in productivity and interpersonal relationships.

However, while we can recognize that there are unhelpful consequences and unrealistic standards maintained by perfectionism, it is often difficult to change the pattern. Once we begin holding ourselves to a particular standard it can be hard to challenge the need to maintain “perfection”. Perfectionism can become part of our identity. Part of how we conceptualize ourselves and how others see us (as well as how we want others to see us). Perfectionism can feel like a drug, once we set a standard, it can feel impossible to “do less”. We’re left always chasing better, always knocking the bar higher and moving the goal post. Performing at a lower caliber can become a stressor itself. We feel as though we might lose who we are, disappoint people in our lives, and we feel guilt and shame. Perfectionism becomes what we believe makes us, us. 

There is another consequence that we don’t often identify. The lack of authenticity that perfectionism brings. It is impossible to engage in perfectionism and be authentic. 

  1. Masking True Feelings: Perfectionists may feel compelled to hide their true emotions or vulnerabilities, fearing that revealing imperfections could lead to judgment or failure. This can result in a facade of confidence or competence that doesn't accurately reflect their inner experiences.

  2. Avoiding Vulnerability: Perfectionists may avoid situations where they feel they cannot perform flawlessly, leading them to shy away from authentic interactions or experiences that involve risk or uncertainty. This avoidance can prevent genuine connections and opportunities for personal growth.

  3. Overemphasis on Image: Perfectionists may become preoccupied with maintaining a flawless image or reputation, prioritizing how they are perceived by others over expressing their genuine thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. This can create a sense of disconnect between their public persona and their true selves.

  4. Fear of Rejection: Perfectionists may fear that showing their authentic selves, including their flaws or mistakes, will lead to rejection or disapproval from others. As a result, they may engage in people-pleasing behaviors or conform to societal expectations rather than embracing their uniqueness.

  5. Impaired Relationships: The lack of authenticity that perfectionism brings can strain relationships, as genuine connection and intimacy require vulnerability and honesty. Perfectionists may struggle to form deep, meaningful bonds with others if they are unable to let down their guard and be authentic.

The pressure to meet unrealistic standards set by perfectionism can lead individuals to suppress their true selves, resulting in a lack of authenticity that hinders personal growth, fulfillment, and genuine connection with others. 

Perfectionism often develops as an adaptive coping skill, to meet a need. This may be a wound that will take time to heal and it is important to approach any goal for change with self compassion and understanding. Acknowledge first what purpose your perfectionism might be providing. It will take time to feel safe enough in authenticity to allow yourself to let go of perfectionism. Here are some ways we can reduce the need for perfectionism and embrace authenticity within ourselves: 

  1. Practice Self-Compassion: Cultivate self-compassion by acknowledging and accepting your imperfections and limitations. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, recognizing that nobody is perfect, and it's okay to make mistakes or fall short of expectations.

  2. Challenge Unrealistic Standards: Examine the standards you set for yourself and question whether they are realistic and achievable. Aim for excellence rather than perfection, understanding that mistakes and setbacks are natural parts of the learning and growth process.

  3. Embrace Vulnerability: Allow yourself to be vulnerable by sharing your authentic thoughts, feelings, and experiences with trusted individuals. Opening up about your fears, insecurities, and failures can foster genuine connections and promote a sense of belonging.

  4. Identify Your Values: Take some time and identify what your values are, what is really important to you. If you’re not sure, it’s ok. If you’re recovering from perfectionism, oftentimes the only thing that feels important is perfection. Take some time to try on and reflect on different values. These don’t have to be values that others say are important, think about what really feels valuable to you and why. 

  5. Practice Authenticity: Make a conscious effort to express your true self in various aspects of your life, including relationships, work, and creative pursuits. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, share your genuine opinions and preferences, and stand up for your values and beliefs.

  6. Focus on Progress, Not Perfection: Shift your focus from achieving flawless outcomes to making progress and learning from your experiences. Celebrate your efforts and accomplishments along the way, regardless of whether they meet your initial expectations.

  7. Set Boundaries: Establish boundaries to protect your well-being and prioritize your needs and values. Learn to say no to unrealistic demands or obligations that conflict with your authentic self and take time for self-care and relaxation.

  8. Challenge Comparison: Avoid comparing yourself to others or measuring your worth based on external standards of success or achievement. Instead, focus on your own journey and personal growth, recognizing that everyone's path is unique.

  9. Seek Support: Surround yourself with supportive individuals who accept you for who you are and encourage your authenticity. Seek out mentors, friends, or therapists who can provide guidance, validation, and perspective as you navigate your journey toward authenticity.

By incorporating these strategies into your life, you can gradually counteract the inauthenticity that perfectionism may bring and cultivate a deeper sense of self-acceptance, connection, and fulfillment.

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